Feb 26, 2024 - News

Polk County Attorney's office explores new program for non-violent crime offenders

Illustration of the "No" symbol merged with jail cell bars.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Polk County Attorney Kimberly Graham wants to start a new program that reduces arrests for non-violent crimes.

Why it matters: The new program could lower incarcerations, particularly for offenders whose crimes may have been driven by mental health, homelessness or substance abuse, Graham tells Axios.

Between the lines: Polk County's program would be similar to a successful diversion program called "Alternatives" that Story County launched in 2020.

  • The program lets officers use discretion with low-level and first-time offenders and refer them to a social worker or a program instead of receiving a criminal charge.
  • Story County's prosecutor's office can also refer someone who's been arrested to a program instead of the court system.

By the numbers: People who completed the program in Story County had a recidivism rate of 8%.

  • The rate was 48% for the same pool of people who didn't complete it, Graham says.

The big picture: Nationwide, cities are enacting more diversion programs to help low-level offenders avoid the lifelong consequences of criminal charges by instead targeting their root challenges.

What's next: Polk County Supervisors want more research done before granting funding for a full-time social worker to run it in Graham's office.

  • In the meantime, a social work intern in Graham's office is researching how to start a local program, she says.

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